Why Iowa's Caitlin Clark is playing against — and not for — UConn in Final Four

Caitlin Clark grew up in West Des Moines, Iowa, but was a Connecticut women’s basketball fan.

Her dream was to play for legendary coach Geno Auriemma, who has led the Huskies to a record 11 national titles.

As a standout player at Downing Catholic High, Clark was recruited by seemingly every major college program in the country, with one significant exception — UConn.

“They called my AAU coach a few times, but they never talked to my family and never talked to me,” Clark told ESPN.

Clark instead played the past four seasons at Iowa, where she became a household name and the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball.

On Friday, she and the Hawkeyes will play in their second straight Final Four, facing none other than Auriemma and the Huskies in the national semifinals.

While speaking to reporters Tuesday, Auriemma was asked about Connecticut’s perceived lack of interest in Clark coming out of high school.

“Well, there’s a lot of kids we didn’t recruit, and there’s a lot of kids that don’t want to come to UConn,” Auriemma said. “I committed to Paige Bueckers very, very early, and it would have been silly for me to say to Paige, ‘Hey, listen, … I’m going to try really hard to recruit Caitlin Clark.’ I don’t do it that way.”

Plus, Auriemma said, the phones work both ways.

“If Caitlin really wanted to come to UConn, she would have called me and said, ‘Coach, I really want to come to UConn,’” he said.

The storyline will likely come up during ESPN’s broadcast of Friday’s game — a broadcast that could rewrite the record books, at least temporarily. Iowa’s win over Louisiana State in an Elite Eight matchup Monday averaged 12.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s college basketball game of all time (beating the 11.84 million viewers who watched the USC-Louisiana Tech national championship game in 1983).

The only men’s NCAA tournament game with higher ratings this year was Sunday’s North Carolina State-Duke game on CBS, which averaged 15.1 viewers.

Iowa-LSU also was ESPN’s most-watched college basketball game ever, men’s or women’s. Connecticut’s Elite Eight win over USC later that night became the network’s second-most-watched college basketball game, with an average of 6.7 million viewers.

For perspective, the Kentucky Derby averaged 14.7 million viewers last year, the deciding game of the NBA Finals 13.1 million, the final round of the Masters 12.1 million and the deciding game of the World Series 11.5 million.

That all seems to set the stage for even more ratings history with the women’s Final Four games — one of which will be the final college game for the WNBA-bound Clark, who doesn’t seem to be holding a grudge after getting the cold shoulder from her dream school years ago.

“Honestly, it was more I wanted them to recruit me to say I got recruited,” Clark told ESPN. “I loved UConn. I think they’re the coolest place on Earth, and I wanted to say I got recruited by them.”

No apparent hard feelings on the Huskies’ end either.

“I don’t think that either of us lost out,” Auriemma said Tuesday. “I think she made the best decision for her, and it’s worked out great. We made the decision we thought we needed to make. There’s a lot of players coming through from high school that we see, thousands of them.

“You’re only going to recruit some. You’re not going to recruit all of them. Some people do recruit all of them. I don’t. I try to lock into who fits with us, try to lock in on them early. That’s what happened with us and Paige. We felt really, really comfortable with that, and we went with it.”

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